Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Waiting is hard and a tip regarding flash photography

So, I'm still waiting for my Sony A99 and my A580 still has a stabilizer malfunction, so I am basically camera-less. As mentioned before, I did borrow a few Canon Rebel DSLRs which have proven to be somewhat inferior in terms of color reproduction and focusing.
So while you and I wait, I think it's the right time to talk a little bit about flash photography. Since I was using cameras that were not my own, I couldn't use any of my wireless flash setup. Initially, I hated flash photography and did everything I could to avoid it. The camera flash was awful, and even more then that, everywhere I looked, photographers with larger than life flashes made pictures look awful. Coming from the film/video world, I was accustomed to elaborate constant studio lighting setups, so a single light pointed directly at someone's face look quite horrible to me. Sure, video shooters also did that when doing interviews, with the on camera light, but again, this didn't look good to me. People's faces looked too bright and flat with a light pointed directly at them.
Some of the more sophisticated photographers that I met simply turned their more expensive flashes sideways, towards the wall, where their light bounced and also had a generally more pleasing color. However, working a lot in events taking place in the open air (demonstrations, weddings, parties) it is more often than not that you do not have a wall. Sure, you could bound a flash off some unsuspecting guest, but here or she might no appreciate that much and the results are of uncertain nature.
Once I discovered my A580 worked wirelessly with my flashes, I started working with assistant photographers and some occasional flash holders to light people from the side front, and sometimes, with two flashes, also give them a nice back light. I placed flashes in discreet places and also got a cheap radio transmitter setup for my flashes for use in more complicate scenarios.
That said, I kept thinking how I could improve on my flash photography photos, especially in event photography in low-light situations (which are frequent). What I decided to do was not to dismiss the available light. Sure, I could always dial ISO to 100 and crank up the flashes. However, that kills the flash batteries real quick and sometimes produces a photo which it too high contrast "dramatic" in its feel, which some customers are not into. Instead, I decided on using ISO 800 as standard in low-light scenarios, dialing it down to 400 or below if light improves. Though I still prefer the flash to light front right or front left, I could also use a mounted flash in some situations.
 The trick is to use your camera in M mode. set the shutter to 1/50 if people are just standing around or faster if they are moving or gesticulating a lot. The iris should be set to whatever you think would provide the right depth of field for your shot. The flash should be set to the lowest intensity that produces a visible result. Set flash area to a 75mm or less wide, even if you're using a different lens. This would light the object in the middle of your shot just enough for the shot to look nice without casting light everywhere.
Here is an example I shot in a CityTree party on saturday, using my assistant's Canon DSLR, standard Zoom lens dialed to 18mm and a mounted flash:

Acro-Yoga in the people's house CityTree party

As you can see, the end result is that I use as much as possible the light that occurs naturally in the location and merely boost it a little, so the sunset behind the buildings, still looks quite well. There's some grain and a little bit of color noise on the left right wall, but that wouldn't happen with a better lens or camera which I will have in less than two weeks time (fingers crossed).
I just hope that my current radio wireless flash setup will work with the new A99 ISO mount. More on that, when I get new camera and be able to test it.

Got my A580 back, and will be taking pictures of my sister after giving birth to two babies, any time now.
Also, spoke to my camera repair guy, and we both agreed that it would be nice to have a highlight photography setting for flash control in the camera. It works as follows: you set the camera manually using M mode and the camera sets the flashes to provide as little light as possible to have a stable and noise free photo. It should, of course, also set the ISO speed.
Optionally, we could have manual control using Wifi for our flashes, but that is some far fetched futuristic technology only aliens have at the moment.

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